Guido Gozzano (1883-1916), a distinguished Italian poet of the early twentieth century, embarked for India in February 1912, ostensibly to treat the tuberculosis he would die from a few years later. His trip lasted three months; all told he spent six weeks on the subcontinent. Before leaving home he had engaged to send back dispatches to La Stampa; after appearing there, his "letters from India" were collected and issued posthumously as Verso la cuna del mondo (1917), now published in English for the first time. The extent of Gozzano's travels - to Ceylon, Goa, Agra, Jaipur - makes one wonder how the writer was able to visit all or even most of the places he so vividly describes. For factual details Gozzano relied on half a dozen sources, notably Pierre Loti and Paolo Mentegazza. But what counts in his book is what comes to us straight from him: a tale of enchantment. Fabulous India, fabled India - "I did not honestly think I would find so much of it intact, " the spellbound traveler repeats to himself before what he must shortly recognize as prodigious evidence of decay.
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